9 Steps to a Pollinator Paradise

I get a lot of questions, both here and from others about pollinators and pollinator gardens. What I say seems simple enough, most gardens are already geared for pollinators, because people like lots of flowers. Despite reports, there are very few flowers that are not attractive to insects. What I do know for sure, is that the more diverse the landscape is, the fewer pest and disease problems you will have. Let us take a look at the steps to create a Pollinator Paradise.

The Powhattan Fire Dept. Monarch Waystation planing stages, location, sod removal (10 x 10 area), layout, mulching, and planting

1. The first thing you need to decide when creating a Pollinator Paradise, is location. Ideally, you want a large area in full sun. However, unless you are building in a corn field, that may not be feasible. There are lots of options for plants in full sun to part shade, but fewer options for part shade to full shade. Also, if the spot is sloped, it may need to be terraced.

The Powhattan Fire Dept. finished Monarch Waystation

2. After you have chosen a place to create, take inventory of what is already there. Do you have any native flowers growing there already? Is there native grass, lawn grasses such as fescue or bluegrass, or is it a sod forming grass such as brome? What trees are growing nearby? What shrubs are nearby? To attract a lot of different pollinators, you will need a variety of trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals, the majority of which should be natives.


3. After inventory, layout the shape of your bed. You can use old garden hose or rope, pinned to the ground with stakes; or you can layout the edges in stone or branches. If your bed is against a windbreak or among trees, it may be best to leave the edging as a natural-cut dip to make maintenance easier. If you do not mind cutting back by hand or if it possible to burn the bed off in spring, you may want to use steel or stone to edge the bed. When you have no border, the easiest thing to do is to mow off the bed in late winter or early spring. 


4. Now that you have the shape of your bed, you can begin prepping for new plants. If you have brome grass or lawn turf, you may want to spray this with grass killer. I would not recommend tilling that ground as this destroys soil structure and creates a hardpan under the tilled soil which prevents root penetrations and nutrient movement. You can cover the dead grass with cardboard, newspaper (black & white only), shredded paper, or unrolled brown paper. Cover this with 3 to 5 inches of organic mulch, such as pine needles, alfalfa mulch, sawdust, or grass clipping from a yard not treated with chemicals. 


5. The best time of year to begin the prep work is the fall before you plant, so the soil has time to rest and the grass has time to die. Over the winter, look through catalogs, call Grimm’s Gardens to ask about plants, and compose a list of pollinator friendly plants to add into the garden next year. The chart below lists 30 easy to find plants and the pollinators they support. 

Plant Name Sun/Shade  Size       H X  W Host For/Attracts
Asclepias tuberosa Sun 2 x 2 Monarchs, Moths/Butterflies, Flies, Bees
Asclepias purpurascens Sun/Part Shade 4 x 2 Monarchs, Moths/Butterflies, Flies, Bees
Solidago speciosa Sun 2 x 6 Moths/Beetles, butterflies, bees, wasps
Sympyotrichum oblongifolium Sun 3 x 3 Moths/Butterflies, bees, wasps, moths
Echinacea purpurea Sun 3 x 3 Checkerspots, Moths/Butterflies, Bees, Beetles
Coreopsis palmata Sun 2 x 2 Moths/Butterflies, Moths, Bees
Phlox divaricata Part Shade 1 x 1 Butterflies, Moths, Bees
Phlox paniculata Sun 4 x 2 Butterflies, moths, bees, hummingbirds
Hylotelephium telephium Sun 2 x 2 Hairstreaks, moths/Bees, butterflies, moths, beetles
Baptisia species Sun Varies Skippers, Sulphurs, Hairstreaks, Moths/Bees
Rudbeckia fulgida Sun 2 x 2 Checkerspots, Moths/Bees, butterflies, moths
Rudbeckia subtomentosa Sun/Part Shade 4 x 3 Checkerspots, Moths/Bees, butterflies, moths, wasps
Ratibida columnifera Sun 3 x 3 Bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, wasps
Glandularia canadensis Sun 6” x 5 Bees, butterflies, moths
Allium ‘Millenium’ Sun 1 x 2 Bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, wasps
Eutrochium purpureum Sun/Part Shade 5 x 5 Checkerspots, moths/Bees, butterflies, moths
Eryngium yuccafolium Sun 4 x 4 Moths/Bees, butterflies, moths, beetles
Schizachrium scoparium Sun 3 x 3 Skippers/Bees, flies
Andropogon gerardii Sun 7 x 3 Skippers/Bees, flies
Panicum virgatum Sun 5 x 4 Skippers/Bees, flies
Sporobolus heterolepis Sun 3 x 3 Skippers/Bees, flies
Helenium ‘Dakota Gold’ Sun 1 x 1 Bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, wasps
Helianthus salicifolius Sun 10 x 4 Checkerspots, moths/Bees, butterflies, wasps
Kniphofia cultivars Sun Varies Moths/Bees, butterflies, hummingbirds
Liatris aspera Sun 3 x 2 Moths/Bees, butterflies, moths, wasps
Monarda species Sun Varies Moths/Bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds
Stachys ‘Hummelo’ Sun 3 x 3 Moths/Bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds
Verbena bonariensis Sun 3 x 2 Bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds
Viola species Sun/Shade Varies Fritillaries, moths/Bees
Antennaria neglecta Sun/Part Shade 6” x 3 American Lady, moths/Bees, flies

6.Now that spring has come, you can go to Grimm’s for plants! For a 10 x 10 foot bed, try to get 15 different species in. For large beds, at least 25 different species of plants. If you are not mowing or burning your bed for maintenance, add in some shrubs for pollinators. Shrubs that benefit pollinators include Beautyberry, Hydrangea, Viburnum, Weigela, Rose, Hazelnut, Serviceberry, Sweetspire, Prickly Ash, and Spicebush. If you are burning or mowing your bed, add shrubs in around your landscape or other areas of your property to help pollinators.

Laying out your plants before planting is a good idea

7.Once you have your plants, you can begin putting them in the ground. If your bed backs up to a windbreak or building, start by putting taller perennials and shrubs in the back and shortest ones in front. If it is an island bed, put the tallest in the middle. If most of your plants are similar in height, lay them out in a varied pattern. Move the mulch back for each plant, and plant in the ground to the level of the soil in the pot. See diagram below:

8. Now that they have been planted, water them in. I recommend watering new plants every day for a week, then every other day for 2 weeks, then 2 times a week for 4 weeks. If you get heavy rainfalls, be sure to check to the soil around the plants before watering, as overwatering can kill plants as easily as not watering. 

A diverse pollinator garden is a benefit to insects and eyes alike

9. It may take 2 to 4 years for your pollinator bed to really take off, but you can reap the benefits of it the first season. Keep a running inventory of butterflies, bees, wasps, beetles, hummingbirds, moths, and other pollinators as they show up. Once your diversity has increases in the insect world, you will begin to see more birds and mammals, and even more amphibians and reptiles. Enjoy it!


Happy planting!

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